SEARSPORT, Maine — With the cold breeze off Penobscot Bay whipping around her, Gov. Janet Mills said here on Wednesday that her administration is pushing forward with offshore wind initiatives aimed at generating more sustainable energy for Mainers.
The state will commit to a study of the Sprague Energy Terminal at Mack Point port facility to identify and assess short- and long-term port opportunities related to the offshore wind industry, which is poised to become a $1-trillion industry by 2040. Mills, who visited Scotland last week as a member of a U.S. delegation to learn more about offshore wind operations there, said that the results of the study should be on her desk this year.
“With our existing port infrastructure and proximity to both European and East Coast markets, Maine is well-positioned to become a leader in the offshore wind industry just as Scotland has,” the governor said. “I look forward to the results of this assessment and charting a path forward for this industry in Maine.”
Maine Aqua Ventus, which is likely to be the first floating offshore wind project in the country, is seeking to use the Port of Searsport to assemble the hull that will be towed to the demonstration test site off Monhegan Island. Mills last year signed a law that directed the Maine Public Utilities Commission to approve the contract for the project, which is a collaboration between Cianbro Corp., the University of Maine and the Advanced Structures and Composites Center. The university has estimated that the project will produce more than $150 million in total economic output, and create more than 550 jobs in the state while it is being constructed.
Offshore wind power projects in Maine stalled under former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, but Mills has made renewable energy projects a priority. The emphasis on Mack Point could be good news for Searsport, said Doug Norman, the chairman of the town’s selectboard.
“This is very exciting,” he said, after the governor made her announcement. “It should bring a lot of jobs and be a shot in the arm for Sprague and Searsport and the state of Maine. The potential is incredible. It’s windy almost every day. It’s a perfect place.”
The deepwater port, which has been active since the 1700s, is the state’s second largest seaport. It’s the entry point for much of the gasoline, heating fuel, and bulk commodities that are used in Maine from Augusta north, and there is room for expansion, port officials said on Wednesday.
“We have more land that has not been developed,” Bill Littlefield, the terminal manager at Sprague Energy, said. “It would mean more jobs for terminal workers, as well as other industries that may locate here to support the project.”
James Gillway, Searsport town manager and a former state representative, said that he has advocated for offshore wind opportunities for about a decade. After DCP Midstream withdrew its controversial proposal to construct a large propane tank at the port in 2013, the community hosted some public hearings to move its economic development forward.
“People said, ‘We want you to find the next good, cutting-edge thing that will be good for Searsport,’” Gillway said.
Offshore wind, which University of Maine scientists and engineers have been pursuing for years, seemed like a good answer. In some countries, including Scotland and Germany, offshore wind is a major source of electricity. It could be in Maine too, he said.
“We can put Maine technology and Maine people to work harnessing a resource that’s in the gulf,” Gillway said.
He hopes the environmental activists who have come out to oppose many large projects planned for the midcoast, including the propane tank, the proposed dredging of Searsport Harbor in 2015 and the current land-based salmon farm proposed for Belfast, will see the value in offshore wind and its renewable energy potential.
“It’s win-win-win,” he said. “Support for this should be strong.”